Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Transparency is the new black

There is a lot of talk about transparency in philanthropy. That's not really new. In most of these discussions transparency has been synonymous with requirements for reporting financial data.

What's interesting now is that transparency is being discussed, and demonstrated, about much more important elements than simple financial data. There are some interesting changes underway that may actually mean point to an active definition of transparency more along the lines of "Here's what we're doing and why and what it amounts to."

Here's a smattering:

This is quite a hodgepodge of activities - Maplight is a philanthropically-funded site that focuses on money in politics; the 990 is mostly - but not exclusively - financial data; The Clear Fund is in start-up mode; SecondLife conversations may mean nothing when it comes time for real life philanthropy; wikis are practically old hat at this point, and foundation blogs are not the most revealing portals.

But they all show legitimate philanthropic interest in opening up the doors - to bring ideas in and to put information out. These are good things.

Why is it happening? There are no doubt several forces at work: changes in the business of giving and a number of new market-based initiatives focused on transparency; younger professionals who bring with them more open attitudes and experiences to accessing and sharing information; and a real interest (maybe) in putting information out to a) help others use it and b) keep regulators at bay.

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